The St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers are both 11th in their respective conferences, but their recent play has them heading in different directions.
The Blues go for their seventh win in eight games when they visit the slumping New York Rangers on Saturday in their only meeting this season.
The latest victory in St. Louis' surge came in dramatic fashion as it beat the New York Islanders 3-2 in overtime on Thursday. The Blues (28-27-9) trailed by two goals with less than three minutes to go when Jay McClement and Petr Cajanek scored in a 38-second stretch to force the extra period.
Lee Stempniak scored his team-leading 20th goal on a power play 25 seconds into overtime for the Blues and added an assist.
"It's a really good win for us," said Stempniak, who has scored in three of the last four games. "Eric (Brewer) made a great fake and drew the goalie out, and slid it over to me."
Doug Weight assisted on the Blues' last two goals and leads them with 44 points after their two top scorers, Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk, were traded away earlier in the week. Weight, who played his first two NHL seasons with the Rangers (30-27-7), has two goals and nine assists in his last six games against his former team.
The Blues have won four straight road games versus the Rangers, but New York won the last meeting 5-4 in overtime at St. Louis on Dec. 10, 2005. Martin Rucinsky scored the game-winner 1:37 into the extra session, but has since signed with St. Louis. He won't get to face his former squad as he is sidelined indefinitely following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip.
Despite St. Louis' recent surge, it would have to make up a double-digit point deficit to earn a berth in the Western Conference playoffs. The Rangers could be one of the top eight teams in the East by next weekend, but they'll need a quick turnaround.
They have dropped four of their last five games, including a 4-3 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. New York led by two goals after two periods, but was outscored 3-1 in the third and Sidney Crosby scored the only goal in the shootout.
New York captain Jaromir Jagr scored his third goal in as many games and boosted his team-leading point total to 77, but had mixed feelings about Thursday's result.
"It depends on the way you look at it," said Jagr, who had a goal and three assists in his last meeting with St. Louis. "Every point is important and can be huge at the end of the season. On the other side, when you have a lead 2-0 after the second period, we just didn't finish the game for whatever reason. We just have to learn."
New York also needs to learn how to stop allowing short-handed goals. The Rangers gave up just two through the first 61 games of the season, but have allowed four in the last three contests.
"We can be disappointed," said Rangers coach Tom Renney, whose team is 1-1-2 on its current six-game homestand. "If we minimize our mistakes, we definitely have a shot to make the playoffs."
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has made 19 consecutive starts, but has never faced the Blues. St. Louis backup goaltender Curtis Sanford is also expected to make his first appearance versus the Rangers as he continues to fill in for injured starter Manny Legace, who will miss at least another week following knee surgery.
New York will be missing defenseman Fedor Tyutin, who is out for three to four weeks due to a sprained knee ligament suffered in Thursday's defeat. Teammate Martin Straka is day-to-day with an upper body injury that has caused him to miss the last two contests.